Don Cowie – The Big VFTN Interview part one

You followed Malky Mackay to Cardiff in July 2011. At the time it was claimed that you were advised not to sign a new contract at Watford, in order to sign for Cardiff as a free agent?

Basically what happened was, I’d been offered a new contract. I had two-and-a-half great years at Watford, but I felt it was a chance for me to move on and progress my career. So I had decided I was leaving and I had made that intention clear to them. At this stage, when I had told them that, Malky was still the Watford manager, so he knew I had decided to leave.

I had some offers at the time, in fact Swansea were a team showing a lot of interest, because Brendan had initially signed me at Watford. Malky got the job at Cardiff in the meantime and asked if I would be interested in coming to join him. So obviously I met him, had a look around at the great facilities, basically I went on the Friday and signed there and then. I think I came back then on the Monday and that was it. Full steam ahead.

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So Cardiff fans will be interested to know, why Cardiff and not Swansea? I’m guessing Malky Mackay had an influence, but were there any other factors?

To be honest, it was a very big transitional period for Cardiff. The summer I signed, Malky had taken over and Cardiff had been very close a few seasons prior to that, but never quite getting promoted. When I arrived, we didn’t have many players at the time. Malky had to re-shape the squad. So I felt it was an exciting opportunity to be part of that.

I knew from afar and from playing for Watford against Cardiff, all the quality players they had. The captain Huds was still there, Marshy the goalkeeper was still there, so I knew there were still great players there. So when Malky asked me to join, I just felt it was a very exciting time and one that I couldn’t really turn down. From an early stage, I just realised how passionate everyone was, especially in the city regarding the team. It was a no-brainer.

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So you’ve mentioned David Marshall there. He was one of the very many Scottish players that we had in the squad at that time. We had Kev McNaughton, Craig Conway, Kenny Millar… did you know any of those guys before you joined and did they help you settle in?

To be honest, I knew of Craig Conway, but not on a friendship level at that time. We were both staying in the Vale Hotel to start off with and that was great because we were both going through the same situation. We helped each other and ironically we ended up moving next door to each other. We became very close and that was great because it enabled our wives to get to know each other as well.

It’s OK for us. We come and play football, but you’ve got to think of your family aswell and know they’re comfortable and happy with the environment. When you play for Cardiff, you travel a lot. You’re away a lot of the time for away games and staying overnight. It put our minds at ease knowing they were comfortable.

It was also great having David Marshall and Kev. I knew them and had come across them in the Scotland set-up before. It was a great place to be, a great dressing room. Everyone got on and Kenny signed a wee bit later, who we all knew. Even Paul Quinn was there at the start too, so the fact there was such a strong contingent of Scottish players, we felt right at home and it was like we were trying to invade the place at one point.

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You immediately won over Cardiff supporters with your lung-busting displays. Have you always been naturally fit in that regard, or is it something that you have worked on?

I think it was something that came naturally. I was decent at middle to long distance running in school, but it probably wasn’t until I became a professional footballer that I maximised that and it became a real strength of mine. It was something I took great pride in, trying to be as fit as I could because we’re all different and we all have our strengths and weaknesses as footballers. That was one of my strengths and you’ve got to play to that.

It was at an early stage that I could tell that the fans appreciate players who give everything. That’s all you can do. As a player, that should be the bare minimum. You should give everything you’ve got and if you do that, the fans appreciate it. We all have our bad games and good games, but what’s important is that when you do have a bad game, you still work as hard as you can and make it difficult for the opponent.

That’s what I’ve tried to do throughout my career and I think it made me what the Cardiff fans appreciated. Like I said, they’re so passionate and want to see that on the pitch. Whether it’s a training session or a game, I give it all I can.

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You were a regular in your first season with Cardiff, which featured that Carling Cup Final. For all of us, making it to that final was amazing, but as a player, what are your recollections of the build-up to that game? Were you excited to be facing such a good team, or was it daunting? How were you feeling?

If I’m being honest, our squad was quite small, so it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind. If I remember rightly, the first few rounds, we changed the team a lot and we just sort of got by. We got through in extra-time against Huddersfield and then we got through on penalties against Leicester and we just sort of just kept getting through. The fact that the squad was so thin, we were like woah, it’s another game that we probably didn’t need at that time because you don’t think you’re going to get to the final.

As it went on, the draw just opened up. We got Blackburn in the quarters, who were struggling in the Premier League at the time. Then we got very fortunate in the semi-finals, where we had Crystal Palace who were also in the Championship. So we managed to avoid all of the big teams and then you get Liverpool in the final.

For me, it’s probably one of my best memories to date just because growing up and still now, I’m a big Liverpool supporter and always have been. So to come up against them in as prestigious a game as the League Cup Final is something I’ll never forget. Unfortunately, we didn’t quite manage to get the job done, but I’ve got great memories from the game because they boys put such an unbelievable shift in and we were so unfortunate. It went to penalties and these things happen, but the day is just a memory of sheer pride. It’s one that I’ll look back on when my career finishes and think, yeah, I was proud to be part of that game.

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You started the game and played the full 120 minutes. So what was it like, as a Liverpool fan, playing in midfield against Steven Gerrard?

Being a Liverpool fan and being a football fan, I’ve always appreciated how good he was, so to be on the same pitch as these players, it was a dream come true. What was great was that we weren’t in awe of Liverpool. We felt we could get a result. They were sort of going through a transitional period at the time too, so they weren’t of the quality of the Liverpool team as they are now. They still had Gerrard, Luis Suarez, Dirk Kuyt, Craig Bellamy, so it wasn’t a poor team by any stretch of imagination, but we still felt that we could cause them problems and we did that.

We still had great opportunities. I remember Kenny had a great chance at the end to win it. Big Ben pops up at the end of extra time to take it to penalties and you just think ‘maybe it is our day’ and to actually take a penalty as well, it was great.